Thomas Byrne Edsall on the Age of Austerity

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thomas Byrne Edsall discusses why he believes battles over scarce resources will increasingly define American politics—and how we might mitigate the damage from these ideological and economic battles. His book The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics looks at the major issues of the next few years—long-term deficit reduction; entitlement reform, notably of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; major cuts in defense spending; and difficulty in financing a continuation of American international involvement.


Thomas Byrne Edsall

Comments [25]


Karl-o: The funniest Marx of all.

Jan. 20 2012 04:49 PM
Peter Talbot from Harrison, NJ


Jan. 20 2012 01:15 PM

Peter Talbot: "Teach a man to fish and ruin a good business opportunity." -elder Marx

Is that Groucho or Harpo?

Jan. 19 2012 10:28 AM
Peter Talbot from Harrison, NJ

"Teach a man to fish and ruin a good business opportunity." -elder Marx

Jan. 19 2012 09:39 AM

The guest brought up (disparagingly, it seemed to me) the old adage: "Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime."

But the adage that is more poignant is: "The best charity you can give a man is a job."

Jan. 18 2012 11:25 PM
Peter Talbot from Harrison, NJ

Mr. Edsel's thesis: that there is a cynical manipulation of constituents to either the end of destruction of "entitlements" (read: aid to minorities) or to militarize organized labor to foment against cutbacks to public service expenditures (read: municipal/state/federal agency job cuts) is true but not interesting.

My take: consumer economies depend on controlling purchases and funnelling buyers to purveyors of goods. Condensation and centralization of supply chains around multinational retail chains (read: Walpensearsdollarbuytargetdiscountmart) requires most consumers to be POOR and FUNCTIONALLY ILLITERATE. Rich people don't fuel the consumer economy. People on food stamps whose cousins work the registers fuel the "consumer economy". That way manufacturing jobs go overseas (except for the military industrial killing machine we cite as "exports) to slave labor, organized labor in the USA is marginalized, rich idiots can whine about environmental greening and everyone can bemoan intellectual property rights while accepting overseas economic and political adventuring (read: killing folks for Haliburton's bottom line) without considering the price of oil in blood. The idea that America is morally a neutral canvas on which the "right" (read: white folks with beamers whose kids park their corollas at Daytona in the Spring) and the "left" (read: worried people who are up on the price of a Mickey D Happy Meal) push their agendas is WRONG. America itself is rotten to the core, and ignorant as the proverbial bag of hammers. The very foundation of our economy is based on exporting violence (or DVD's featuring same): same as the Brits when the sun set on the empire in India. Edsel pictures the future as a struggle to "get past the demographic bulge of minority majority". Nonsense. The minorities have bought the same tissue of lies: the result is increased corruption at all levels of society. What little Johnny and little Latoya are learning now is that if your name is Corzine you can make a billion dollars disappear due to failed banking regulations, say you're sorry and write your memoirs. If you have to take the subway to a part time job cleaning toilets in a diner in Corona you can go to prison or be deported if somebody smells marijuana within 10 feet of you on the platform. The lesson this teaches is unmitigated rage. The tea baggers are insane to think that they will be unscathed by the result of cancelling the few sops to the poor that the "state" provides through welfare, food stamps, et al. The bread lines of 2013 may not be the peaceful and resigned queues of 1936. They will be more likened to the riots that brought down Tsar Nicky the second in St. Petersburg. Limbaugh should be much more careful about what he campaigns for.

G-d have mercy.

Jan. 18 2012 01:34 PM
Joe Pearce from Brooklyn, N. Y.

An apology for some confusion in my prior comment. Somehow or other, I seem to have typed in the word "integration" several times when the word "immigration" was intended. My comment had nothing to do with integration, so please mentally insert "immigration" wherever "integration" appears. Oy!

Jan. 18 2012 01:28 PM
Joe Pearce from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Messrs Edsall and Lopate, in their discussion of "immigration", tell us how opposed so many Americans are to "immigration", that Arizona is now opposed to "immigration" but used to be in favor of "immigration", etc., etc. I do not know a single person opposed to "integration"; I have heard no politician on either side of the ledger opposed to "integration"; I have read no articles opposed to "integration". I am not opposed to "immigration". But, as with those other people, the politicians, and the newspaper pundits, I am greatly opposed to ILLEGAL immigration (I'd capitalize it even larger if my computer allowed me to!), for the obvious reason that it makes a joke of our laws and allows (or justifies entrace) into this country people whose very first act upon leaving their own country is to break the law of our country. Why does this have to be explained over and over and over again? Why don't Messrs Lopate and Edsall, and others like them, use the term ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION to differentiate it from normal, legal integration - to which NOBODY is opposed?

While on this subject, I constantly hear those who want to do away with entitlements, but who want to keep Social Security and Healthcare, being described as some kind of hypocrites - they want to get theirs, but don't want minorities or the poor to get theirs. The difference is that Social Security and Healthcare (but especially Social Security) are not the Right's idea of "entitlements". I paid into Social Security for a half-century, and into various kinds of Heathcare for a shorter period. For me, Social Security is not an "entitlement", but something I contracted for with the U.S. Government at the age of seventeen; I would pay a certain percentage of my salary into a fund to pay me back a pension in my old age, and my employer would contribute a like amount. That makes it, if you will, an annuity or a pension plan, but it certainly doesn't make it an "entitlement". Entitlements are, to most fair-minded people, things the Government has decided should be paid to people who have never worked or contributed towards the largesse they are now receiving, and most of it as a benefit of my non-SS tax dollars paid over the course of fifty years. Why is this so hard for the left, or for just about anybody on NPR, to understand?

Jan. 18 2012 01:18 PM
Henry from Katonah

"Are we going to have to face a major crisis?"
Leonard, Prof. Edsall, we had a major crisis in 2008 to 2009, which President Obama and a majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress guided us through. I guess that crisis was wasted, maybe the next one...

Jan. 18 2012 01:06 PM
Cab from Manhattan from NYC

Right and Left no longer appear to be able to reach a consensus on anything. I would describe the level of escalating political and economic division we now endure as a "Cold Civil War".

Jan. 18 2012 12:54 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Americans are not poor. They are just poor compared to what they THINK they deserve to have :) Many thought that just being an American entitled them to become rich.

Jan. 18 2012 12:44 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

FDR and America were just lucky that WWII came along and destroyed most of America's competitors for 30 years. Those years were the prosperous ones in America. But now that there is no barrier to competition in the world, Americans forgot that they have to work very hard and to save a lot to compete. So now the US standard of living is simply retreating back to normal proportions. It got blown out of size after WWII, and now its downsizing or "right sizing" to fit current global economic realities.

Jan. 18 2012 12:42 PM

Offshoring slavery (thanks Steve Jobs) and knocking the legs from underneath domestic labor (thanks illegal immigrants) are NOT austerity. They are a criminal conspiracy.

The economy, as measured by GDP, generates plenty of money - more than ever - the distribution into the pockets of a few is leading to a downturn in overall fiscal health. If the rich are so tired of paying too much in taxes, let the rest of us earn a better living.

Jan. 18 2012 12:38 PM

The poor in this country are not "poor" because of some character defect in them. The poor in this country—and now the middle class—have lost the purchasing power of the money that they earn thanks to the 100-year policy of the Federal Reserve inflating the money supply exponentially, thereby destroying the value of a 1913 dollar to the worth of about a nickel today. Although wages have risen along with the costs of goods in the last 100 years, the cost of goods has risen much higher than wages.

Forcibly taking money (which is just another way of saying theft) from people who earn more money (both the upper and middle classes) to turn over to people who make less money (poorer people) is not only immoral, but it does NOTHING for the poor people in terms of having their standard of living rise over time. THAT'S what can really help the lowest earning workers in this country—NOT giving them a paltry bit of money to help them just survive.

Jan. 18 2012 12:32 PM

woaaa... real conservatives are not in favor of hierarchy!! libertarians, the real conservative movement, is all about individual rights, minimalist government, etc... this is the opposite of hierarchy.

Jan. 18 2012 12:28 PM
Ken from Brooklyn

If we are going to have a real conversation about entitlements than the top end of the bracket needs to be addressed as well.

For example, we have far too many examples of upper level management, boards of directors and other executives that oversee massive corporate failings and still get bonuses and hefty salaries. Tony Hayward of BP for example. During congressional hearings he denied all responsibility and basically said he has no understanding of the inner workings of the company he runs and racked in millions of dollars in salary and bonuses during his tenure at the company and after the Gulf Coast disaster.

His earning are clearly not based on performance. This is an entitlement.

Jan. 18 2012 12:26 PM
Caroline Schimmel from Greenwich, CT

Why does Mitt's income not get captured by the alternate minimum tax?

Jan. 18 2012 12:25 PM
John A.

An anti-kneejerk response to the guest. Little resistance from me.

Jan. 18 2012 12:25 PM
Afra from Garment Dist.

I love this guy's language...if you're not a hedge fund guy you're automatically a "Joe Six-Pack."
I don't drink beer and I'm no "Joe"...America needs to come up with a better word for poor people who don't drink beer/alcohol and got an education and don't pay 15% taxes.

Jan. 18 2012 12:24 PM
David A. from West Hempstead

It's actually possible that you do pay absolutely more into Social Security than Mitt Romney; as far as I know, capital gains income makes no contribution to the payroll tax.

Jan. 18 2012 12:23 PM
The Truth from Beecky

"The undeserving poor"?? I am confused by this phrase....reaching for the off button.

Jan. 18 2012 12:22 PM
Marsha Andrews from UWS

Ask him about Qatar. Everyone gets free education, health insurance etc.

Jan. 18 2012 12:22 PM
The Truth from Becky

What is "Obamacare"?

Jan. 18 2012 12:20 PM

When will ignorant people like the current guest stop using the word "isolationist" to describe a country that doesn't want to attack, occupy, and control other governments in the world (in order to "spread democracy")?

Countries freely trading with one another is the peaceful way for countries to act. That doesn't sound "isolationist" to me.

Jan. 18 2012 12:19 PM
Nico from Crown Heights

Polarized? Austerity is one of the few policies the two major parties agree on. Both have corporatist, finance-first agendas. If their respective positions count as polarization, please give us your new definition of political polarization.

Jan. 18 2012 12:11 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.